The UK Government has extended the current lockdown phase, which will lead to prolonged periods of social distancing and ‘temporary’ homeworking. With that in mind, do we need to look again at assessments for homeworking?
When the COVID-19 crisis hit and the UK, along with many other countries, went into lockdown, millions of workers were rapidly sent to work from home. In normal times home workers, or remote workers, would be contracted to work from home, and would, therefore, be set up with a desk and other equipment to simulate an office environment.
They would then follow the advice and guidance set out by the Health and Safety Executive, other regulators, and ergonomics professionals on maintaining neutral posture and minimising health risks.
In the current environment, temporary home workers do not have this luxury. Due to the rapidity of the change, temporary home workers will likely be working from couches, dining room tables, beds, kitchen stools and other workspaces, and using devices intended only for short term use.
Pragmatic Advice for Temporary Homeworkers
We have, since the start of this, advocated a pragmatic approach to dealing with this risk. We have advised that organisations should promote sound homeworker advice around movement, breathing and hydration and give practical information on, for example, working from a couch.
Early on, the HSE took the step to clarify the situation by advising that “there is no increased risk from DSE work for those working at home temporarily. So in that situation, employers do not need to do home workstation assessments.”
In a tweet from March 20th, they state that you do not need to do DSE workstation assessments for temporary homeworkers.
Employers, if you have people working from home temporarily because of #Coronavirus you do not need to do display screen equipment (DSE) workstation assessments. We have useful advice you can give workers to minimise the risks to their health: https://t.co/fzgJSScK5E pic.twitter.com/KKQWRfuMBe
— Health and Safety Executive (@H_S_E) March 20, 2020
But What Does Temporary Homeworker Mean?
When considering the issue of what is a temporary homeworker we have to be careful. Initially, it appeared that lockdown was a fixed period, and the term ‘temporary’ was applied to that period. However, lockdown is likely to extend further. Last night the Government announced a three-week extension to the lockdown.
Furthermore, we might expect that a full ‘exit’ from lockdown, including vulnerable people, to only be introduced when we either have a vaccine or have reached herd immunity.
Until that point, which may be some time away, the threat from resurgence is very high and potentially devasting. What that means is open for interpretation.
Nadine Dorries, the Health Minister, echoes Professor Neil Ferguson’s view that some form of social distancing will remain in place until a vaccine is found, which could be up to 18 months away. She said, “There is only one way we can ‘exit’ full lockdown and that is when we have a vaccine.
“Until then, we need to find ways we can adapt society and strike a balance between the health of the nation and our economy.
Legal Advice on What Temporary Means
In an article written by Fiona Cameron and Kevin Bridges of Pinsent Masons, published 9th April, they argue that there is a question over whether temporary home working will be classed as ‘temporary’ considering the changing debate over the extension of lockdown and the how long the crisis will last.
“It is as yet unclear how long the period of ‘lockdown’ will last in the UK, and whether remote working will be classed as ‘temporary’ will be an open question as more time passes. Rather than risk debates on such semantics employers would be well advised now to take steps to comply with the DSE Regulations, particularly as even short-term incorrect usage of DSE can have the potential to create longer-term health problems.”
They encourage employers to take seriously their requirements under the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, which requires employers to:
- Undertake DSE workstation assessments for users
- Reduce risks
- Provide eyesight tests if a worker asks for one
- Provide training and information for workers
In this context, and with the very real health impacts of even short term incorrect DSE usage, employers should beware. Employers should take time to evaluate their risk assessments, as “general duties to take reasonable care for health, safety and wellbeing… are not relaxed during the current crisis”. Those who do not may be in breach of their obligations.
Training and Assessment for Temporary Homeworkers
Initially, Cardinus advised clients to focus on pragmatic training that addressed the way people are ‘really’ home working. That means, providing advice on working from couches, dining room tables and kitchen stools.
After all, there is no point in providing advice on 5-caster base chairs when you haven’t got one.
On risk assessments, we said that standard DSE assessments will only uncover a lot of risks that you won’t be able to deal with.
In line with Pinsent Mason, we are now at a point where assessments should be considered. Assessments should also be pragmatic and address the real issues at hand.
The key impact of this advice is that training and assessment will be vital to your strategy. You should seek to offer pragmatic advice for your employee’s current environment and ensure a simple, practical risk assessment is in place. This will help you to keep your employees from harm.
You can create your own simple risk assessment to address home working, based off of, for example, the Health and Safety Executive DSE workstation checklist.
We have also created our own practical risk assessment that works with our temporary home working e-learning solution and covers ergonomics, comfort, psychosocial risk, first aid, fire, and other issues that our customers are facing.
For more information on risk assessments for temporary home workers, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7469 0200.